Ségou, south-centre of present-day Mali, cradle of the Bambara people, 18th century.
At the the center of Ségou is Dousika, a nobleman close to the Mansa, the regional king, embodiment of power and wealth, everything the Ségou society stands for. It is Dousika, whose household comprises three wives, one concubine and four sons, through whom the narrative unfolds and splits.
In this society in which life is organized by rituals and customs, the inevitable course of history draws Dousika’s sons away from his house to make their own way in the world. Exploring three generations, the novel follows the sons’ destinies in the larger context of the expansion of Islam in Saharan Africa and the slave trade in the Americas.
Bambara, Peul, Ashanti, Moors, French, mixed races, the novel is a melting pot of ethnic groups, languages, religions and customs permeating the narrative substance and making the reading experience both rich and colorful. Maryse Condé pays homage not only to her African ancestors, but also to a world of infinite power, sophisticated culture and influence, emphasizing the diversity and complexity of Saharan civilizations, often too poorly known by the modern public.
The immense research behind this novel weaves itself into an intimate knowledge of African history—a primary reason Ségou is often called “the African saga.” Yet, set aside its historic frame, Ségou is also a novel portraying eccentric and passionate characters; from mighty Dousika to Nya, his fiery first wife; from the short-tempered Malobali, the son of Dousika’s concubine, to the utterly good slave Nadié. All of them bring their own insights to the multi-faceted human fate, half free, half contaminated by history.
Review by Ioana Danaila